Alberta Justice has formed a working group to respond to concerns over police street checks and develop guidelines, CBC News has learned.

The group was formed in February at the request of Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and involves the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police. It is made up of representatives from Alberta Justice and police services across the province, including RCMP.

On Monday, Ganley said her office established the working group after hearing concerns from communities that sometimes feel targeted. 

"All Albertans deserve to feel safe and respected in their communities," Ganley wrote in an earlier statement provided to CBC News. "My office has heard some concerns regarding the practice of street checks and we take these concerns seriously."

Ganley told CBC News she has heard from police chiefs who are committed to bias-free policing as outlined in Alberta's policing standards. She said her ministry will now seek more focused feedback from community groups.

"Ultimately the goal is to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to ensure that the entire public can have confidence in the fact that policing is bias free and that it's there equally for everyone," she said.  

The guidelines from the working group will require approval from the ministry and police services.

'My office has heard some concerns regarding the practice of street checks and we take these concerns seriously' - Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley

Since last year, street checks in Alberta have increasingly come under fire from community and civil rights groups, activists, lawyers, the privacy commissioner's office and Conservative MLA Mike Ellis, a former police officer.

Critics say the practice, which some caĺl carding, disproportionately targets people of colour and residents of lower income neighbourhoods, as well as violating privacy and human rights.

While Edmonton police conduct random street checks, which involves stopping and documenting people not suspected of a crime, Calgary police say they don't stop people without cause.

"We understand the working group's report is being reviewed by the Minister, who will be consulting different community groups," said the Edmonton Police Service in a statement, declining further comment.

In an interview with CBC News, Calgary police deputy chief Sat Parhar welcomed the move.

"Hopefully the province is going to come up with a robust piece of policy that is going to actually define all the pieces that are really, really important so we all are working off the same playbook, we're all doing things in a defined way that respects the good of the community and what they want and what we need to do to keep the public safe," said Parhar.

Calgary police overhaul procedure

But Calgary police aren't waiting. They have already begun a major overhaul of their procedures, even changing the name from "check-up slips" to "info posts."

In the first phase, launched Oct. 30, a civilian unit now independently scrutinizes every police contact to ensure stops are lawful and unbiased.

"We're putting the rigour around lawfulness, fair and impartial policing," said Parhar.

"I think in society today there is a level of  transparency and accountability that is expected of public agencies and law enforcement is no different. So when we're doing these things I think it's important first of all, the public know what we're doing. And I also think that privacy is really important so we should be accountable for why we're doing the business we're doing."

Calgary police deputy chief Sat Parhar

Calgary Police Service Deputy Chief Sat Parhar said the public expects accountability and transparency from law enforcement. (CBC)

Ellis, a Calgary MLA, described Calgary's program as "cutting edge," one that could work for the entire province.

"You don't have to reinvent wheels here," said Ellis, who has urged Ganley to end carding, which he says violates constitutional rights. "If you see something good copy and paste it and make sure it's applied."

Ellis said the Calgary program ensures compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires stops to be based on suspicion or witnessing an offence. Using an independent civilian body rules out the perception of bias, he added.

"This is just another check and balance that in my opinion helps to ensure that you continue to earn the public trust and maintain that public trust," said Ellis.

'We're putting the rigour around lawfulness, fair and impartial policing' - Calgary Police Service Deputy Chief Sat Parhar

Calgary police also plan to address information storage concerns. Some have suggested limits and rules are needed. Parhar said it's about striking the right balance, pointing to examples where information from years earlier has led to convictions.

He emphasized that Calgary police do not stop and document people randomly.

"We just firmly believe it's not the right thing to do," said Parhar. "And you need to be lawfully placed in your ability to collect the information and then assess it. Not just go up to any citizen and randomly collect their information. Because most citizens don't know, they don't know what their rights are, and to us that's not fair."

Last week the Toronto Police Services Board revised its carding policy to meet new provincial guidelines which banned random street checks, but critics said it doesn't go far enough.

In October 2015, after conducting an internal review, EPS concluded changes to its street check policy were not necessary. Earlier this month, Edmonton police told CBC News their position had not changed.


andrea.huncar@cbc.ca                   @andreahuncar